Expungement is the court process that seals a criminal conviction so that it can't be viewed by the general public. A state of Florida expungement is an option only if you have not been convicted of any previous criminal offense. Further, you can file a petition to expunge in Florida only if it is your first criminal offense, meaning you can go through the process just once in your lifetime.
Difference Between Sealed and Expunged
Sealing and expunging have the same effect (restricting a criminal charge from being viewed by the public), but the eligibility requirements are different. Expungement applies only to charges that have been completely dismissed by a prosecutor or a judge. However, if your case was not dismissed and you pleaded guilty or no contest, or you were found guilty after trial, you may not file for expungement.
If you have never been convicted of a crime and you got adjudication withheld, you may be eligible for sealing. However, some charges are not able to be sealed. For example, a simple battery may be sealed, but a domestic battery cannot be sealed. Most serious charges, including aggravated assault, drug trafficking and arson, cannot be sealed.
Florida Expungement Packet
If you are eligible for expungement, you need to obtain a Florida expungement package, which can be downloaded from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website. You need to complete this in order to get a valid Certificate of Eligibility, the first step toward petitioning the court for an order for expungement.
It is very important that Section B of this form is completed by the prosecuting attorney from the jurisdiction in which the charge originated. If Section B is not completed, the application will be processed as a request to seal, rather than expunge.
You also need to complete the FDLE fingerprint form (FD 40-024), which is included in the application packet. Your fingerprints must be taken by a member of a law enforcement or criminal justice agency. If you have a fingerprint card, you may use this instead. The form or card must include your full name, race, sex, date of birth, agency ORI (the agency's identification number), your signature and the signature of the official taking your fingerprints. The packet also requests your Social Security number. This is optional, but failing to provide it may result in a delay to your application.
Other requirements are a certified disposition of the case for which you are applying to be expunged, which you can get from the Clerk of Court in the county where the charge was filed, and the processing fee of $75 by check, cashier's check or money order. If you are represented by an attorney, an attorney's letter on letterhead must be included.
Accessing Expunged Records
If your application for expungement is successful, nobody is able to view your criminal conviction. However, if certain circumstances apply, you must admit or acknowledge the conviction. For example, if you are a defendant in a criminal prosecution, seeking to be appointed as a guardian or applying for admission to the Florida Bar or employment with a criminal justice agency, you must provide the relevant parties with your demographic information, together with a caveat stating that criminal history information has been expunged. The parties will still not see any details of the arrest, charges filed or disposition.